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What's the difference between Pilates and Yoga?

I get a lot of questions about the differences between these two practices, with many people lumping them together as the same thing, so I thought I’d do a quick Pilates v Yoga comparison to clear it up:

Yoga and Pilates do indeed have a lot of similarities in that they both aim to develop strength, balance, good posture, flexibility and have a focus on the mind-body connection, but there are distinct differences:

How they started out

Yoga – this is a much older practice, starting over 5000 years ago in India and it wasn’t created as purely as an exercise but more as a way of life. It was very much about understanding yourself better and connecting the body with the spirit, particularly through Hinduism and Buddhism practices.

Pilates – this is a much newer practice, invented by Joseph Pilates in the 20th century to help with the rehabilitation of POW patients. He designed more than 500 mind-body movements to develop strong, flexible muscles without the bulk, and it is this that then led to dancers to take on this form of exercise.

Overall concept

Yoga – this unites mind, body and soul and can be a very spiritual practice. The mindfulness comes first with the strength and flexibility coming as an added benefit. The movements aren’t what you’d liken to a regular workout class – they’re more like poses that gives your body flexibility and relaxation. There are many types of yoga practices, with some holding poses (asana) for long periods, others flowing fairly fast, others in the heat – there’s usually something for everyone regardless of age or fitness level.

Pilates – again this is very much a mindful practice, but is more exercise-like than Yoga and its focus is on toning and strengthening the body as well as improving posture and fluidity of movement. The objective is that strengthening the core (a key focus in Pilates), allows the rest of the body to move freely. There are only 2 types of Pilates – mat based and those using a reformer machine (for added resistance), but again there are different repertoires to help with different fitness levels.

Benefits – flexibility, strength, toning, rehab, mental health

Yoga – this practice is a lot about stretching - enhancing flexibility and increasing the range of movement, done by relaxing your body into specific poses. Simply holding these poses also helps with strengthening and toning of the whole body.

Also a great one for mental health and emotional rehabilitation with most variations including meditation, mantra’s and/or affirmations to help you with positivity and clarity.

Some poses aren’t necessarily good for you if you have back concerns due to the range of motion required.

Pilates – rather than specifically stretching the muscles, it looks to find out why a certain muscle is tight and tries to solve the problem. Most moves will strengthen one muscle while stretching the opposing muscle. It’s a tried method of injury rehabilitation and reducing physical pains. Focus on the core means it’s very beneficial for those with lower back problems and it can also ultimately lead to a more toned stomach.

Pilates is great for toning as you’re really concentrating on recruiting the right muscles, doing small movements that really work those muscles in the way they need to work.

Class workout

Yoga – this in general is a much slower practice than Pilates, with the focus on holding poses to get the most out of them. They give your muscles chance to relax into a position for as long as you feel is necessary. There is a lovely flow to the movements though as they move seamlessly into each other

Pilates – is more like a normal exercise class in this respect as it’s much more structured dynamic movement. There are certain principles that you need to consider throughout, such as pelvic placement, breathing, rib placement – without first considering these you won’t be able to then activate the correct muscles.


Yoga – the breath in yoga is all about getting into a state of relaxation and increasing the flexibility of your body.

Pilates – is used as a technique of giving the muscles the energy they need to work efficiently as well as trying to relax the muscles that are tense.


In summary, both practices are excellent for getting you in shape, relieving stress and giving you better flexibility. Which one is best for you? I’m training to be a Pilates teacher, as I really love the focus on the core and how it works on improving my alignment. But, equally I need to relax and take time for me and so yoga is perfect for helping me switch off. So, in a nutshell, it’s really down to personal preference, how you’re feeling and what you what you ultimately want to achieve from that session. My advice – go try them both out! That way you’ll find out which one your body and mind respond to best!

I would however say that both practices should ideally be mixed with other forms of exercise so as to get a well-rounded exercise plan. Neither is particularly cardio focused so you will need to factor this into your week.


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